Fuel for gold

Ever wondered how Olympic athletes fuel their bodies? A local chef recounts her experiences feeding HYPO2 athletes.

A large portion of my formative years were spent thinking I wanted to be a veterinarian. In order to pay for college, I worked in restaurants in addition to other jobs including; veterinary technician, horseback guide, & screen printer. After my undergraduate was complete I began to fill out vet school applications, it became clear to me that I was having doubts about my career choice. I decided to postpone the idea of vet school for a year, take a full-time kitchen job and give myself the year to contemplate.

Change in Career Paths

Fast forward a couple decades and if asked today if I made the correct decision, my answer would be absolutely. Of course, there are times I question my sanity for becoming a chef but I ultimately chose my true passion and love my work. My culinary path has led me from dishwasher, to line cook, to restaurateur & executive chef, to food manager for a Grand Canyon rafting company, to a full-time river guide, to the owner of a small catering company.  

Flagstaff is such a unique town filled with amazing people and unique opportunities, I would say it holds a strong sense of community for me. Additionally, its 7k elevation has opened up special opportunities for certain businesses. It’s funny how one introduction can change the course of your path. About three years ago my ex-business partner gave my name to Sean Anthony, owner of HYPO2, and shortly thereafter I began cooking for HYPO2 athletes.

Cooking for HYPO2 Athletes

So, what’s it like? It’s a niche area of the culinary world that allows me to interact with amazing people and hone my craft. But, many teams can’t commit until closer to their visit so it’s a bit of a “waiting game.” HYPO2 has been dedicated in trying to encourage the teams to book early. Sean connects me to the potential team(s) and it starts with learning if the prospective team has dietary restrictions or preferences. Menus are submitted to coaches for approval and many times reviewed by a dietician. Some teams prefer to stick to their native food, I’ve become quite adept at cooking Japanese cuisine these days! At times, it comes with some challenges, but overall, it’s all worthwhile and I feel extremely fortunate for the opportunity. Moreover, I’d say we’re still in the “formative” time frame and continually working to grow and improve.

Swimmers comprise most of my teams but I have cooked for a group of speed-walkers. Calorie intake is a big factor and can swimmers eat and eat a lot! I’m not a dietician but I know some basics and how cooking from scratch for athletes (& non-athletes too) is extremely important for healthy bodies and optimal performance. Most meals prepared are dinners and are comprised of a big salad filled with fresh vegetables and a home-made dressing. A protein (sometimes two protein options per meal) about 10-12 ounces per person, a starch option, and a fresh vegetable.

Some examples of meals prepared for HYPO2 teams:

Japan: Butano Kakuni

Butano Kakuni is pork belly that is pan seared to crisp the meat then braised in a mix of teriyaki sauce, beer, & dashi. I make my teriyaki and dashi from scratch, dashi is a stock comprised of dried fish flakes & seaweed. Served with sushi rice and sesame-ginger bok choy.

Italy: Pasta Carbonara

Pasta carbonara (spaghetti that is tossed with egg, parmesan cheese, bacon drippings, and crisp bacon), or penne with Pomodoro sauce (fresh tomatoes, a little garlic, lots of basil, and extra virgin olive oil-no ketchup here!). Their meals also include bread, roasted potatoes, fresh fruit, lots of Parmesan cheese, and San Pellegrino to drink.

Britain: Burrito Bowls

“Burrito Bowls,” with carnitas or barbacoa, rice, black beans, calabacitas, southwest coleslaw (red and green cabbage, carrots, cilantro, pepitas, tossed with a lime-red wine vinegar-honey vinaigrette), lots of “fixins”: pickled red onions, home-made salsas, sour cream, cheese, cilantro, etc. It’s a crowd pleaser!

No matter what corner of the world the teams arrive from, my goal is to provide fresh, nutritious meals to keep their bodies operating at their peak training capacity. Everything is prepared from scratch to minimize preservatives, sugars, hydrogenated fats, etc. All meals are prepared the day of and just before delivery to preserve nutrients and flavor.

How it Works

All this cooking takes place in a commercial kitchen, I lease a “commissary” from Sugar Mamas bakery. Meals are prepared here and then loaded into my trusty van for delivery to the hotel where teams stay. Sometimes different teams overlap in their training and I cook two separate meals for the same delivery time. The team size varies quite a bit, I’ve cooked for as few as 4 people and almost 60 people when teams overlap. I do not have a staff, mostly it’s just me. When it’s a bigger team I may contract in help. I’d love to grow to a point of being able hire a crew and offer jobs to the community.

I feel extremely fortunate to meet athletes from around the globe and have my culinary repertoire expanded. Also, to think when an athlete wins a medal that maybe my food was a part of their journey to victory! However, my ultimate reward is full bellies and smiling faces at the end of every meal. 

About the Author

Laura Chamberlin

Laura is the owner/chef of Laura Chamberlin Professional Chef Personal Service LLC, a catering company that encompasses many facets of the culinary world. Laura attended The University of Colorado at Boulder and earned a bachelors in Environmental, Population, & Organismic Biology. She subsequently attended Johnson & Wales University in Denver, CO where she earned an Associates in Applied Science, Culinary Arts and graduated with Summa Cum Laude honors. Laura was a founding partner and Executive Chef of Brix Restaurant and Wine Bar. Within one year of opening Brix, Laura was invited to cook at the James Beard Foundation and Brix made Conde Nast’s “Top 99 New Restaurants in the World.” When not cooking, Laura can be found hiking, mountain biking, rafting, or snowboarding. She lives with her fiancé, Mike and their clan of rescued animals.